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Political action through consensus : a case study of the Federation of Independent School Associations of British Columbia Froese, Peter

Abstract

This is a case study which seeks to understand how individuals achieve consensus within heterogeneous groups. The Federation of Independent School Associations in British Columbia was formed in 1966 to lobby government for recognition and funding for independent schools. FISA consists of five separate associations with different ideological and pedagogical priorities that might make achieving consensus difficult. Yet over the past forty years, unanimity on policy has been achieved on all but one occasion. This case study draws on Bourdieu's (1985) analysis of how groups develop strategies of collaboration within a social space. Jarvis (1998) also provides a paradigm on group knowledge that has been adapted to analyze the interviews that constitute part of the qualitative data in this research. Data sources included archival records, press reports, Board meeting attendance, meeting minutes, internal FISA memos, and interviews with Directors and senior government officials. The study's purpose was to determine what strategies FISA used to achieve consensus on issues relating to legislation which provided partial public funding for independent schools in BC. The conclusions suggest five organizational facets that impact FISA's consensus strategies: beliefs and values, group knowledge, external variables, personal identities and tacit learning. Foundational principles of FISA include the right to `disassociate' on specific issues. Consensus is achieved through consciously limiting the issues addressed by the organization. The diversity of FISA is considered its strength and members respect one another despite differing belief systems through conscious misunderstanding. Finally, each association has an equal voice in shaping policy. The common threat of losing public funding is a major motivator towards collaboration. Building relationships with senior government officials and elected representatives has been found effective to garner support for independent schools. This research is based on a study of one non government organization, and therefore, the results cannot be generalized to other diverse organizations, though the findings may be transferable. Further research would be warranted to determine if political or community groups function in a similar manner. The ability to deal with group diversity is important in the context of a multi-cultural society.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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